Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? The Shocking Truth - Are They Really Bobbed?

Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? The Shocking Truth – Are They Really Bobbed?

The Australian Shepherd tail and mini Australian Shepherd tail both often undergo tail docking for the following reasons:

  • It’s considered a standard of the breed
  • An undocked tail is long, messy, and could get matted
  • To prevent damage from tall grass, weeds, and other outdoor dangers

What does your Aussie’s tail look like? Depending on where you got your dog from, they may not have their original, lengthy tail. Instead, your Shepherd’s tail could be short (called docking).

Why do this?

While docking dogs’ tails does it have its avid supporters, there are those that are staunchly against it as well. In this article, we’ll explain more about docking from both sides. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide for yourself whether to get your Australian Shepherd’s tail docked or leave it the way it is. 

Are you thinking of getting your first Aussie?  Hold up for just a bit because there are some very important things to know about this herding dog breed aside from their funny looking tails.  I wrote an article all about the uniqueness of these great dogs in this article.

This Australian Shepherd has a short tail

What Does It Mean to “Dock” Aussie’s Tails?

First, let’s talk about what docking itself is. This isn’t an act exclusive to breeding Australian Shepherds, but rather, any dog or animal with a lengthy tail. When the tail is docked, it’s shortened. 

This may occur as part of a surgical procedure where a process using a scalpel or surgical scissors takes place. The tail is cut off at the end so it’s shorter. Alternatively, a ligature made of rubber is wrapped around the dog’s tail. This remains for days, cutting off blood so the tail end comes off on its own, no surgery required. 

Either of these procedures will occur very young into the puppy’s life–up to five days after birth– so their tail is at the right length for the rest of their lives. It’s said the dog may be uncomfortable, but not in pain. Also, the puppy is rarely conscious during docking, although they can awaken in the middle of the procedure. 

Docking a dog’s tail is not the same as a breed with a natural bobtail. These dogs may have very shortened tails if there’s one at all. These tails were not cut or removed, but rather, look that length at birth. Some cats and dogs can have bobtails, including some Australian Shepherds and other herding dog breeds.  

Aussie tail - long and full

Why Docking Instead of Breeding for Bobtails? 

If bobtails exist, then why dock an Australian Shepherd’s tail at all? Animal Genetics has a chart on breeding for tail length. If the dog being bred happens to contain the normal gene and has dual copies of this, then the tail length of the puppies should be normal, not bobbed.

Instead, the Australian Shepherd needs only a single normal gene and then one mutant gene, since bobtails aren’t considered the normal tail variant. Even still, there’s only a 50-percent chance of the puppy being born with a bobbed tail.

It gets even worse. Should the bred Shepherd have a second mutant gene, then their puppy will not survive. It’s a very dangerous game, so docking has become more common.

bobbed tail aussie

Why Do They Dock the Australian Shepherd Tail?

Plenty of pet owners and breeders with an Australian Shepherd will opt to get the dog’s tail docked very early in its life. Why do this? Let’s talk more about the reasons we outlined in the intro.

It’s a Standard of the Breed

Kennel clubs hold each dog breed to very high standards, and these standards put immense pressure on dog owners.  

To excel in contests and dog shows, your canine would have to look a certain way, matching the preferences for that breed. In Australian Shepherds, that’s a docked tail. While normal tails don’t preclude entry into these events, many dog owners and breeders have found they face penalization or don’t win because of their dog’s original tail length. 

Undocked Tails Are Hard to Care For

A long tail in an australian shepherd has fur that’s equally as lengthy in that area. As your dog goes about their day-to-day life, they increase their chances of their tail fur getting tangled and even matted. As you may know, if you brush your Shepherd’s fur yourself at home, the matting is incredibly painful for the dog. Most of the time, you wind up having to cut the curly hair out because you can’t detangle the knots.

Even if your Shepherd genetics allow it to avoid tail matting, their longer curly tail may cover more of their rear. Now when they poop, the likelihood of the dog having feces in their tail increases. If you don’t notice the feces right away, your Shepherd can easily spread this to other parts of their body by moving or wagging their tail. Then it becomes a headache to clean them up. 

I wrote an article that has everything you need to know about Australian Shepherds and their shedding habits. It will help both you and your Aussie not be so miserable.

Reducing Injury and Damage to the Longer Tail 

The Australian Shepherd comes from such parts of the world as the western United States, as do their mini counterparts. The tall grasses, weeds, brush, and other outdoor dangers there make it easy for your herding dog’s long tail to get snagged and injured.

Shorter tails are at less risk of this damage and help with the animals agility. 

What Is the Ideal Length for a Docked Tail of an Australian Shepherd?

Okay, so which tail length should you aspire to if you want to avoid the above for your dog? For full-sized Australian Shepherds, most prefer a tail length of four inches. 

That’s per the American Kennel Club, which does allow for bobbed tails in the breed should they occur naturally. If you check out the link above, you’ll see there are requirements for every last part of an Australian Shepherd. It includes info about their color, curly coat texture, hindquarters and forequarters, body, topline and neck, muzzle, skull, ears, eyes, and head. 

It shouldn’t be surprising then that in addition to tail docking, some dog owners and breeders opt to crop a dog’s ears as well. 

do australian shepherds have tails?

The Downsides of Getting Your Aussie’s Tail Docked

Now it’s time to talk more about those who are against tail docking for Australian Shepherds or any other breed of animal. 

In 1996, Robert K. Wansbrough wrote about docking dogs’ tails for cosmetic purposes. He mentioned that most dogs who had shorter tails than others in their breed were hindered. For example, Wansborough noted how these dogs may not be able to express themselves as well since tails are a primary means of expression in dogs. If a canine couldn’t display playfulness, aggression, caution, or fear, they may accidentally send mixed messages to another dog. This could potentially lead to conflict, fighting, and even injury or death. 

Others who oppose tail docking state how dogs may lack as much balance when running as they would if their tails were at a more natural length. Since it’s believed that dogs rely on their tails when swimming, using them as a rudder, those breeds with shorter tails may have a harder time in the water. 

Fetch, a pet resource from WebMD, spoke to Emily Patterson-Kane, Ph.D. for their article. Patterson-Kane is part of the American Veterinary Medical Association or AVMA as its animal welfare scientist. 

She says docking “poses unnecessary risks,” such as the possibility of the dog growing a nerve tumor or neuroma on the tail. 


The AVMA is one major veterinary organization of many that do not approve of tail docking in dogs. Others include the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. 

Also, many parts of the world have striven to make tail docking illegal, including:

  • Wales – restricted unless on working dog breeds, and only then can be done by a veterinarian
  • The British Virgin Islands
  • Turkey
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Spain 
  • South Africa – only can be done for medical needs, and once again, a vet needs to do it
  • Slovakia
  • Serbia – can be done for medical reasons, such as on working breeds, but not for cosmetics
  • Scotland
  • Russia – restricted 
  • Poland
  • Norway
  • Northern Ireland – restricted except for working dog breeds and must be performed by a veterinarian 
  • New Zealand
  • The Netherlands 
  • Luxembourg
  • Lithuania 
  • Latvia
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Iceland
  • Hungary
  • Germany – only working gun dogs can have their tails docked
  • Finland
  • Estonia 
  • England – restricted except for working dog breeds and must be performed by a veterinarian 
  • Denmark – working gun dogs can have their tails docked here, too
  • Cyprus
  • Croatia
  • Colombia
  • Chile 
  • Canada – Nova Scotia, Labrador and Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island have made tail docking illegal
  • Brazil – can be done for non-cosmetic reasons, but otherwise banned
  • Belgium
  • Austria 
  • Australia 

Surprisingly, the US does not ban or restrict tail docking at all in dogs. That said, Vermont and New York are trying to create a bill that could change that. 


The Australian Shepherd is one dog breed of many that gets its tail docked. This involves using surgery or tightly constricting the tail to get it to about four inches total. In doing so, your animal could compete in dog shows, as it meets breed standards. Their shorter the animal tail may also be more hygienic. An Australian Shepherd tail that is short may also find agility training to be easier due to the maneuverability. 

Tail docking is not all good; far from it. This practice could cause cancer, prevent swimming and running dexterity, and limit a dog’s ability to express themselves fully via their tail. In the US, tail docking is legal, so it’s up to you if you want a shorter tail for your Australian Shepherd. 

Ryan Wood

Over 20 years ago I got my first Australian Shepherd. Ever since then, my family and I have been constantly learning and immersing myself with these wonderful and intriguing dogs. Now with 6 Aussie's and a couple Australian Cattle Dogs (aka Blue Heelers) in the family tree, We've learned from on-the-ground experience what makes the Australian breeds different than "regular dogs" and what doesn't. This is the site where we share everything we've learned.

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